Violence against women in Yemen is an issue that has sat enveloped in silence for a long time. Now, finally, it is being recognized as a topic in serious need of discussion among the Yemeni people and government. The government’s recognition of gender-based violence is a first step in the process of finding solutions to this terrible phenomenon.
Human development cannot be achieved without a healthy and safe environment for both genders. Communities are fighting hunger and poverty in their attempts to develop, but many do not understand that without respecting women’s rights and female empowerment, communities cannot develop.
Houria Mashour, Minister of Human Rights, considers early marriage one of the most dangerous violations of women rights. “When a girl gets married under the age of 18, she is deprived of education and forced to carry a great responsibility before she is either mentally or physically ready. That has big implications for her development.”
The phrase violence against women (VAW) is a technical term used to collectively refer to violent acts that are primarily or exclusively committed against women. Many types of violence are considered to be violence against women. These include violence carried out by ‘individuals’ as well as ‘states.’ Some of the violence perpetrated by individuals is rape, domestic violence, harmful customary or traditional practices such as diagnosis planning, honor killings, dowry violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, sexual harassment, coercive use of contraceptives, female infanticide, obstetric violence and mob violence. Some are perpetrated by states, such as the trafficking of women.
The United Nations Population Fund in Yemen (YNPFA) recently celebrated “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence” and an “ICPD Beyond 2014 moving forward in Yemen” event. During the ceremony, held on December 9, Lene K. Christiansen, UNFPA Representative to Yemen, said that violence against women has been called “the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world.” According to Christiansen, violence against women jeopardizes women’s lives, bodies, psychological integrity, and freedom.
Christiansen said that gender-based violence both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls and several harmful traditional practices including female genital mutilation, or cutting as it is sometimes referred to.
“Any one of these abuses can leave deep psychological scars, damage the health of women and girls in general, including their reproductive and sexual health, and in some instances, results in death,” she warned.
The “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence” is an international campaign initiated in 1991 by the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute. The campaign started in 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, which is also International Human Rights Day. The global campaign is celebrated worldwide for 16 days by various actors.
Beginning November 25, UNFPA Yemen and other partners organized and hosted activities for sixteen days to raise awareness of violence against women. Their theme for this year is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women!”
In Yemen, many girls continue to suffer from harmful practices, including early and forced marriages and female genital cutting. Families in many cultures also show a preference for sons that results in discrimination against girls in a variety of ways.
In the coastal areas of Yemen, more than 95% of girls undergo female genital cutting and around 14% of all girls under the age of 18 are married, oftentimes to a man they hardly know. They also usually have no choice in the matter.
“It has become evident more recently that young boys may also experience gender-based violence, especially in conflict-affected areas where poverty and lack of peace makes it easier for young boys to become victims of traffickers. What is more, Yemen again in 2013 came very last on the global Gender Gap Index making it the 7th year in a row that Yemen has ranked lowest in the world in terms of the status of women,” the UNFPA representative to Yemen said.
In her address, Mashour reviewed some of the efforts undertaken by the Human Rights Ministry and the National Commission on Women and stressed the need to advocate the law of determining the age of marriage by putting pressure on the parliament. She also stressed the importance of the media’s role in spreading and promoting awareness of violence against women and crafting public opinion on pro-women’s rights and various issues.
“Despite the violence perpetrated against women, women have still been able to make great achievements in recent years in the areas of employment, participation, building Yemen, access to decision-making positions and playing a major role in shaping the future of the new Yemen” she noted.
Mr. Ismail Ouldsheikh Ahmed, UN Resident Coordinator, stressed the need to address violence based on gender in all its forms and to give women all their legitimate rights. “The issues of violence against women require the implementation of many in-depth studies in order to control the issue and find appropriate solutions.”
The Netherlands Deputy Ambassador confirmed the right of all people to security and safety and to enjoy full rights, led by women and children. “The Netherlands Embassy in Sana’a is implementing several programs for development in Yemen, and the Netherlands government is committed to supporting this development. It also helps to provide universal access to reproductive health services, including family planning that would contribute to the reduction of the level of fertility”.
In response to Ms. Christiansen, the Deputy Ambassador noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, which sparked a renewed effort to promote and protect human rights for all people under the vision that these go hand in hand with development. “In Vienna, world leaders affirmed that women’s rights are indeed human rights”.
According to Population and Development in Cairo (ICPD), Christiansen mentioned that in the ICPD in 1994, Vienna’s message emphasized that sexual and reproductive health and rights should be at the center of population and development policies. This human rights-based approach guides UNFPA’s work to this day.
A key issue highlighted by the ICPD global survey was that Yemen’s population is doubling every 25 years, whereas the global average is 75 years. The fast pace of population growth can be explained by only one factor: family planning and having access to the right services. It is about making sure that maternal health services are available to all women. It is about education for both girls and boys. It is about eradicating gender-based violence and ensuring everyone’s health and well-being.